Launching a Life of Service

Launching a Life of Service

Hope Melton

Good Works and the Grand Canyon 2015 | BriBri Village Service Experience 2016 | Mountain Air and Village Service 2017

Hope Melton is a Fulbright Grant recipient who is currently carrying out her grant in Kosovo. She received her B.A. in political science from Oklahoma City University in 2020 and some of her favorite hobbies include archery, cooking, and cheering on the OKC Thunder.

All images have been provided by Hope. Read her story below!

Looking back on my weird habits as a child, it’s not hard to see how I turned into the adult that I am today. For instance, I admittedly was never really into Disney movies. Instead, I much preferred a good National Geographic documentary (the more obscure the subject matter, the better).

And as much as I loved Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series, my most treasured book by far was an atlas that was gifted to me for Christmas one year. I was an absolute geography nerd who was starving to learn everything she could about different cultures, and to visit some of these far-flung places that I had read about.

The other members of my family were kind of homebodies who preferred our home in suburban Kansas to the likes of Kilimanjaro or South Korea, so I never did much international traveling as a child. So when I reached high school and I was finally old enough to travel on my own, I was absolutely dying to embark on a summer adventure and to explore somewhere new.

Admittedly, I was picky about the type of traveling that I wanted to do. I wanted to do something that ultimately felt more meaningful and more educational than just being shuffled around from museum to museum in some well-traveled city such as Paris or London. So that’s what led to me signing up for a Rustic Pathways program in Arizona in 2015. A big part of why I was drawn to this particular program was because of the service component.

During my week in northern Arizona, we participated in a number of service projects that addressed food insecurity in the region, such as sorting through donations at a food bank and preparing dinner at a soup kitchen.

By the end of the program, I was so much more knowledgeable about the subject and the different approaches that are currently being undertaken to address it. Nowadays food insecurity and food deserts are such a big topic in my hometown of Oklahoma City, and whenever the topic comes up, I feel as though I can speak much more eloquently on the subject because of my time in Arizona.

In the summer of 2016, I embarked on another Rustic program, this time in Costa Rica. I specifically chose a program that was based in a BriBri village because I wanted to learn more about some of the unique problems that are being faced by indigenous groups such as the BriBri.

One of my core memories from this program was walking through the entire chocolate making process and making some of the most delicious chocolate that I’ve ever tasted. This also led to an important lesson about how the BriBri and other similar groups are using some of their traditional cultural practices (such as making chocolate) turning them into successful businesses as a means of achieving greater financial independence.

My final Rustic summer was in 2017, when I traveled to the mountainous central part of the Dominican Republic to assist in bringing clean running water to some of the people living in the rural towns there.

My group was the group that finally finished building a long pipeline that directly ran into a cluster of houses, so we got to see the excitement on the locals’ faces and rejoice together and fresh water flowed into their homes for the first time. After service, our evenings were filled with pool games, merengue lessons, and countless memories to last a lifetime.

Today, I see my Rustic programs as the key foundational building blocks in a career that is continually growing. My summers abroad as a teenager were essential in helping me land some amazing opportunities early on, and everything so far has just built from there.

For instance, in 2018, I applied to participate in a cultural exchange program that was run by my university. During the application and interview process, I repeatedly cited my experiences with Rustic as evidence that I was an experienced traveler who was passionate about deep, meaningful cultural exchange. In the end, I was accepted into the program and so I spent the summer of 2018 in Hefei, China, teaching English and hosting fun activities for some of the local children there.

During my senior year of college, I applied for a Fulbright grant from the U.S. Department of State. In my application, I once again cited my Rustic experiences along with my experience in China as evidence to why I would be a good cultural ambassador, worthy of such a prestigious grant. In March of 2020, it was announced that I had officially been awarded the grant, and two months later, I graduated from Oklahoma City University with a bachelor’s degree in political science along with minors in Spanish, philosophy, and international studies.

Currently, I am carrying out my Fulbright grant in Mitrovica, Kosovo. Here, I split my time between teaching English at a local university and teaching at a camp for those who are fleeing the violence in Afghanistan.

Since coming here, I’ve met people from every corner of the globe and everyday I get to interact with diplomats, UN officials, nonprofit leaders, and so many other fascinating individuals, many of whom have become great mentors to me. I’ve built so many close connections with my students and the work that I’m doing feels so deeply meaningful. I feel very mentally stimulated as every day I’m picking up new works in Albanian and Dari and I’m constantly learning new things about Kosovar and Afghan culture. I can genuinely say that I love what I do for a living and I am so, so optimistic about what my future holds.

Looking back, it’s so easy to see how my experiences as a Rustic student shaped my worldview and helped me to develop open mindedness, a sense of adventure, and a deep, deep passion for learning more about all of the world’s cultures. My experiences as a teen directly contributed to the amazing career that I have today, and I am forever grateful to Rustic for helping me start this incredible journey!

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